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Cops find new tactic: The Facebook perp walk

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Posting mug shots on Facebook seemed a sweet idea for police in a small New Jersey town within spitting distance of Philadelphia — only some people aren’t too crazy about it.

What the critics neglect to mention, however, is that the friendly police in Evesham Township also post photos of bank robbers and fugitives, as well as information about crimes the public can help them solve.

A well-informed citizenry is obviously safer. Plus, you never know when an alert passerby — or double-crossed former buddy — will drop a dime.

No matter their reasons, or the reactions to them, police in the Burlington County town due west of Toms River and south of Trenton are providing a public service by posting the mug shots. More departments should emulate them. Would save a lot of time and trouble distributing similar information to the media.

Anyone who is arrested, whether he or she broke the law or not, unfortunately surrenders some privacy — name, address, likeness. Social Security numbers and other important personal information isn‘t distributed, although a date of birth could be.

And here’s where the argument is cinched: This is public information to begin with. You, or anyone, can walk into a public courthouse or police station and obtain the exact same photos or details the kind gendarmes of Evesham (population: 49,000) post for all to see.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor

Countless law enforcement agencies, including the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, post mug shots on their sites. The N.J. Department of Corrections makes available not only photos but information about anyone who’s EVER passed through the state prison system.

The only catch, of course, is if someone is wrongly arrested — but I’ve covered police and courts for 30 years and I’ve rarely, if ever, seen that happen. If someone has walked,  it’s usually because prosecutors somehow bungled the case.

But there’s always a solution for that: A section dubbed “CLEARED,” where shots can be posted of those arrested who’ve had charges dropped or were cleared in court, would do the trick. Would tell the public how their justice system is faring.

Any police department that chooses to follow Evesham had best be sure to post shots of EVERYONE they arrest, even if it’s the police chief’s son, or a councilman who had too much to drink on his way home from a night meeting. Otherwise, you’re talking selective enforcement at best and discrimination at worst. The feds have rules about that stuff.

At the same time, those falsely accused should have the ability to sue the department, the municipality and those in charge if they‘re officially cleared. It’s only fair.

But we’re really not talking guilt or innocence here.

“ALL PERSONS ON THIS PAGE ARE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY IN A COURT OF LAW!” warns the department, which adjusted its settings to prohibit comments (it was getting kind of nasty at the beginning).

Where it gets really sticky is if the person charged is admitted into Pre-Trial Intervention, a special program that clears (“expunges” is the official term) the record of your arrest if you keep your nose clean for a year.

What if a potential employer, with an excellent candidate, somehow finds that mugshot and denies that man or woman a job, even though PTI was completed successfully? What if a shoplifter or scofflaw pays his or her debt to society, then goes on to be productive?

Remember: The Internet never forgets. Ever.

On the other hand:

A mug shot is merely a photograph taken by a publicly-funded agency of someone who was taken into custody, booked and bailed, whether that‘s Mel Gibson or Lindsay Lohan or Otis the Drunk.

In itself, I believe that is more than reason enough to post the photos on Facebook. Maybe the move will become some type of deterrent — who knows?

I say: Let the perp walk begin….

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